They say if you do what you love, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. But what if you don’t know what that is?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
My parents asked me this a lot when I was young, and my answer to it changed as I got older: pop star at 8 years old, game designer at 10, teacher at 11, actress at 14, and musician from around aged 16 onwards. But as an actual grown up today, I’m still not sure I really know.
Having been raised with a pretty traditional career outlook (school, university, job, retire), the idea of working hard so you can be successful in life has been ingrained in me from the start. But having recently given up my well-paid, stable career in digital marketing, I’ve spent a lot of time recently questioning what success really means.
The life script
I didn’t go to university straight away after sixth form, and instead spent years working multiple bar jobs around the city. After I burnt out doing too many night shifts and partying with friends, I got tired of the lifestyle and realised I needed (and wanted) to find a more long-term plan. I enrolled in university at age 22 with the intention of starting on my career path, only to quit after the first year – much to my parent’s dismay. It turned out most of the 18 year olds in my class were more interested in partying and having a good time, but as a mature student who’d already been-there-done-that, I really couldn’t stand to be around them. I also didn’t feel like I was learning anything valuable – there was an entire module about how money alone isn’t a good motivator, which believe me, I’d already learnt by then.
I’d been toying with the idea of running my own business for a while at that stage, but sadly the handmade jewellery never really took off. I picked up a lot of knowledge though from running a little online store, and with some self-taught skills, it lead me to a job as a marketing assistant – the first step of my career ladder. I was ecstatic.
Six months after I started my role, I realised there wasn’t anywhere for me to go at the company, and so I left.
Moving on up
With a much better CV at this stage which showed I was eager to learn, I managed to land a really great role as a marketing executive for a national brand. The pay rise from my last job was huge, and I felt like I’d finally found my career job.
A year or so after I started, I got promoted to ‘senior’, and the following year I was given an employee to manage. Not long after that, I got another pay rise to reflect the hard work I’d put in, and there was talk for me to move up again and expand the department. But it was already too late – I’d started to get that feeling again. The feeling that this wasn’t quite right for me.
Failure is a strong word
Back when I left that marketing assistant job, I felt like I might be the problem – that it was me who couldn’t make the best of a bad situation, and it was me who couldn’t hold down a job. And now that I’ve decided to quit again, I’m back to how I felt all those years ago. I was never one of those people who knew from age 3 what they wanted to do in life, and who was so passionate about one thing that they just did that, forever. I really envy those people.
Quitting the marketing assistant job made sense because it led to a much bigger and better role, but this time, quitting before I was likely to have moved up the career ladder again felt stupid. Why am I giving up what I thought I wanted five years ago, what I’ve been told I should have, and what I’ve already spent half a decade working towards?
What success means to me
I think a lot of people might’ve looked at me last year and thought I was ‘successful’ – I had a stable job, a partner, my own car, my own house, nice holidays – you know, the stuff you’re supposed to have, and want. But the truth is, I didn’t really feel successful. I’d been wondering whether there was more to life than the traditional 9-5, whether sacrificing such a huge amount of my time was worth the paycheque, and whether what I was doing in that time even had any real purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had so far, and for all of the things I listed above and then some, but having just changed course again in my career when the life script tells me I shouldn’t, I’ve realised what success really means – to be happy.
I don’t have any regrets to date, but one thing I’m terrified of is building some later on. As I get older and more of my friends and family fall ill or pass on, I’m reminded of how important it is to make the most of your days – spending mine at a desk five days a week working for someone else’s dream is not what I want to do, even if it does pay me well.
I don’t want to get stuck in the rat race of pushing people out of the way to get to the bigger food pellets. I don’t want to look back when I’m in my 40s and think ‘what if’. I don’t want to be that person that keeps doing what they’re doing just because it’s easy, and not because they enjoy it. And worst of all, I don’t want to have the means to do what I want, but not have the time to actually do it. I do believe we should work to live, and not the other way around.
They say your 20s are for figuring out what you want to do, but I’m hurtling towards my 30s now and I can’t help but feel like I should’ve already figured this out. I’m scared of starting all over again from the beginning and giving up what I’ve already been working towards, but the truth is, I’m more afraid of getting too comfortable to change my life for the better.
That desire to be my own boss hasn’t ever left, and I’m proud to say it’s been four months now since I set off on my path to becoming a freelance graphic designer like I’ve been dreaming of. It’s been a hard few months filled with anxiety, but I’m so glad to have taken the biggest step towards my goal of having a better work-life balance, and of being in control of my own time and projects. I’d really love to get to a stage where I can take my laptop on the road with me, instead of having my trips/life governed by annual leave.
It’s easy to look around you and compare yourself to others, but when the majority of people are trying to achieve a postcard picture of married life in a house with a family, it can be hard to realise you might want something different. I know why I don’t want some of the things that social convention makes you think you do, but sometimes I’m still having to remind myself that the only expectations you have to meet are your own.
So this is another reminder to myself and to you – it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a career, drive an expensive car, wear fancy clothes, have a partner, are married, have children, want children, want to travel, want to stay home, or own your own home… because none of those things define who you are as a person. Just do whatever the hell makes you happy at the time, because your life is just that – yours.
More personal posts:
Why I’m tired of being asked ‘where are you from?’
6 reasons I’m taking a solo trip